Lawyer Shockvertising

2014 started off with a bang in the legal marketing world when Georgia lawyer Jamie Casino ran a two-minute local television ad during this year’s Superbowl that includes (and I’m hardly scratching the surface here) biblical references, allegations of a cover-up by the area’s chief of police in the death of Casino’s brother, and a sunglass-clad Casino wielding a flaming sledgehammer to smash his brother’s tombstone while a pounding heavy metal soundtrack plays in the background, all of which apparently provides the backstory for Casino’s decision to move from criminal defense to personal injury law as his preferred area of practice.  

As is the way of such things, the ad was very well received in some quarters. No less an authority than portrayed the spot as “indescribably epic”, and sources as varied as Rolling Stone, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the UK’s Daily Mail all provided extensive media coverage about the ad. As of the time of this writing the spot has garnered more than 5 million views on YouTube, and there are reports that after sifting through more than 40 offers, Casino has landed a reality tv show (tentatively titled “Casino’s Law”) to be produced by the executive producer of “The Bachelor”.

Reaction within the profession to Casino’s cinematic ouvre has been notably less enthusiastic. From the Daily Mail’s report:

‘It makes all lawyers look bad,’ a senior partner at a local law firm commented.

And from a local Savannah news outlet:

The president of the Georgia Bar Association also wrote a letter to the Savannah Morning News condemning Casino’s ad. 

Despite that condemnation, a scant two months on a new challenger for the most outrageous lawyer ad of the year has emerged. Pittsburgh rapper turned criminal defense lawyer Daniel Meussig has released an online video ad depicting smiling drug dealers, thieves and prostitutes giving the thumbs up and saying “Thanks Dan!” for helping them continue with their nefarious ways. From the ad:

Consequences – they sure suck, don’t they? America was built on freedom [cut to visual of screeching eagle flying across American flag backdrop], not a bunch of people with more money than you telling you what you can and can’t do with their stupid ‘laws’. Laws are arbitrary! Hi, my name is Daniel Meussig and I’m a criminal defense attorney.

There are tanks, boxing gloves, and counsel’s offer to defend – in addition to the usual laundry list of criminal charges – “funny throwback crimes such as moonshining, or pickpocketing.” It ends with Meussig spinning a dreidel as he intones “Did I mention I’m Jewish?”

Meussig’s ad feels like an exceptionally well-crafted Saturday Night Live skit or Colbert Report bit, except that behind the satire stands a real lawyer, who is self-described on his YouTube channel as being “crazy like a fox”. Meussig himself describes the ad in a Reuters story as being

a send-up of the cartoonishly amoral Jewish defense attorney. “I wanted to connect with my potential clients in a way they could understand. I wanted to give people something that would be memorable and entertaining.”

Potential clients may like it, but unsurprisingly, some lawyers are not amused. Tom Loftus, spokesman for the Allegheny County Bar Association, said he found the ad “insulting to Pittsburgh lawyers and lawyers across the country, who take great pride in their profession.”

The legal profession has always had a rather queasy relationship with advertising. Networking-oriented marketing activities such as client lunches and dinners, seminars, hockey games – all fine. But “pure advertising”- billboards, tv commercials, bus shelters and their ilk – have long put a pause in many a lawyer’s step. For a great number of lawyers steeped in the traditions of the profession, such tactics carry the distinctly unpleasant whiff of the smarmy and undignified. But advertising in law isn’t going away, and as we see more examples of boundary-pushing (or exploding) ads both from within the profession and from non-lawyer entities competing against traditional legal service providers, the conflicts between lawyers over what is and is not “appropriate” marketing are sure to grow. Exciting times.

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